Fargo is without a doubt one of the greatest modern noir films, thanks to the Coen brothers' tightly wound script and an all-star cast giving outstanding performances. But one random Fargo scene stands out in particular. The part of the film in question is the Marge Gunderson date enigma where she meets up with Mike Yanagita. This scene has sparked some interesting Coen brothers theories, and when you begin to explore the possibilities you may realize that whatever you believed before may be completely wrong.
Because Mike only exists in one scene of the film, audiences are asked to draw their own conclusions about him. He’s essentially presented without context, beyond being mentioned as one of Marge’s old friends. The Fargo theories that Mike Yanagita has spawned cover everything from toxic masculinity to flipped detective narratives.
The most interesting thing about all of these Marge Gunderson conspiracy theories is that there’s not a right or wrong answer. Mike Yanagita can be everything to everyone while sobbing about his maybe dead wife. Whatever you think is the character's purpose, there's no doubt that he's a memorable character from this most memorable of '90s indie hits.
Frances McDormand played Marge, and she's married to Joel Coen, so if anyone is going to know what's going on with this scene it's her. In an interview with Willem Dafoe for Bomb Magazine, McDormand discussed how the Mike Yanagita date helped form her character while it was still on the page: "The Mike Yanagita thing. They told me they wanted to develop Marge’s character in a different context, other than with her husband, or with the murder case. Any character development - that’s good. So when they come up with this Mike Yanagita scene - I didn’t really get it until I saw the finished movie."
McDormand continued, "I wanted to show how uncomfortable Marge was when he broke down. She is a cop, she can handle a lot of stuff, but when it comes to public displays of emotion, she was very uncomfortable. She had to leave. I liked that it showed she is fallible. And also, that just because she’s pregnant, she’s not this mother-image. That was the last thing I wanted. If she was too sweet and understanding with Mike Yanagita, then it was gonna become this whole 'mama' thing. That would have been too easy."
One Redditor believes that Mike represents the moral decay inherent in each of the antagonists in the film: "I always held the idea that it was just another sign of how most of the characters in Fargo were using other people to further their own motives, as opposed to Marge who legitimately is trying to solve the kidnapping, ect."
In every classic hero narrative, the protagonist must be tested before they can overcome their obstacles. Fargo is no exception, but the Coens hid this storytelling trope inside what seems to be a toss-off scene.
Over at Vox, Todd VanDerWerff states that, "Mike Yanagita's deception is also a chance for Marge to realize that she's not as good of a person - or even a cop - as she thinks she is, which is something that ultimately allows her to arrive at her big revelation."
Throughout Fargo, men aren't at their best. A theory posited at Bitch Media claims that Mike exists to show Marge how destructive male behavior can be when its motivated by insecurity.
"Mike offers Marge a chance to glimpse the heart of masculine inadequacy: at first, it seems like Mike is about to make a pass at Marge, then he invents a story about a personal tragedy and bursts into tears," author Sarah Marshall says. "As she comforts him, Marge has the chance to realize what motivates some of the most inexplicable and destructive male behavior: not greed or malice or even bloodlust, but insecurity and fear."